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Being a Woman and a Leader: It’s Challenging but Achievable

Being a Woman and a Leader: It’s Challenging but Achievable

Ladies, this isn’t news to us. As a woman in the work force you need to work twice as hard, be twice as successful, twice as creative, and be twice as productive as the men in your field just to even be recognized as a valuable asset to your company. The stakes are even higher as a woman in a leadership position.

Women have gained their place in the work force, even if men are still trying to shake us out.

Women still struggle with the stigma of their place being “at home.” But in less than a century, we have made great strides in staking our place with the big boys.

Females didn’t start entering the work force until after the civil war.[1] Women of color had to support themselves in their newly gained freedom, and female immigrants began to follow suit. Housewives started seeking work as well to help out with the costs of a post-war household. The pay was awful, significantly less than what their male counterparts earned. And the working conditions were dangerous and grueling.

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During World War II, women took on a stronger role in the work force, taking up vacant jobs left behind by their deployed husbands and male associates. But as soon as the war was over, the men wanted their jobs back. This was a confusing time for women because now they didn’t know their place. Some retreated back to the housewife regime, while many refused to give up the positions they’ve earned.

From then it’s been nothing short of an uphill battle for women. And although we have more than proved ourselves, we are constantly undermined and disrespected by men and women alike while in positions of power.

If tactfully approached, women can still be successful leaders.

The fight is long from over, but we strong, independent, intimidating women can practice a few methods in order to alleviate the fragile egos of our male coworkers and in this case, employees. We need to back off of the power play and emphasis of what’s fair, and focus on a common goal. In order to be a good leader, you need to gain the respect of your team and make them want to follow you.

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Strong women in the work force are unsettling and threatening to many men, and even some women who harbor the outdated ideology that men are stronger and smarter. We have to be very tactful when giving direction so that we don’t come off as too “aggressive.”

Here are some nice hand-holding methods to ensure that men don’t feel belittled or undermined when a woman leader is telling them what to do.

Build a strong community of women leaders and workers, and advocate for each other.

There is strength in numbers. Typically women who advocate for themselves are viewed as attention seeking, and overzealous. It’s not “normal” for women to behave this way, and therefore receives a lot of negativity. Ladies, let’s be real. We cut each other down for this and it needs to stop. Instead, we need to build each other up. Glorify each other for our accomplishments.[2] Recommend one another. And when you feel daring enough to advocate for yourself, leave yourself open to resources so that you don’t appear closed-minded or “threatening.”

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Rise to power when the resources and timing is right.

There’s a reason why women rarely hold executive positions in small companies.[3] But in larger corporations, there are more positions and opportunities for females to rise to the top. In addition to this, timing is everything. If your company is looking to make changes and move in a new direction, it’s time to pounce. There is a small window of opportunity here to have your ideas heard and accepted.

Level with your employees- ask, don’t tell.

No one likes being told what to do. And men definitely don’t like being bossed around by a woman unless there’s dinner and a massage in it for them later. So instead of being direct and bossy, try and level with them.[4] Instead of saying, “have this in by Thursday,” try saying, “Can you have this in by Thursday?” They’ll be thinking to themselves, “well of course I can.” But you gave them the option and took the pressure off a bit.

Be slightly indirect when voicing an opinion.

I can’t stress this enough, we’re walking around on egg shells here. If you see a glaring issue, it can only be addressed if you do it nicely. Instead of saying, “this is horrible and must be remedied at once,” try something a bit more lax like, “I think we have an opportunity to make this better. We’re almost there!” Positivity and indirect candy-coated criticism will get you far.

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Overuse punctuation and smiley faces to seem more approachable.

When administering or replying to a memo, overuse exclamation points and smiley faces to ensure that your readers know that you are an approachable and friendly person. The simple use of commas and periods are too blunt and can be threatening to unsuspecting employees.

When someone regurgitates what you said or told them, just take it with a grain of salt.

Let them run with your idea, it has to get out there somehow. Instead of correcting them, informing them that you had already said that exact same thing, expand on it more to add to the conversation. Now people are listening, now you will be heard.

Featured photo credit: Stocksnap via stocksnap.io

Reference

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Jenn Beach

Traveling vagabond, freelance writer, & plantbased food enthusiast.

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Last Updated on April 23, 2019

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

What Is a Stretch Goal?

A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

1. Get Outside of Your Head

If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

I see this in so many areas of life:

When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

“Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

S.M.A.R.T.

is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

The Bottom Line

These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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